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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Lunarium by Josep Lluís Aguiló translated by Anna Crowe (Arc Publications)

Lunarium by Josep Lluís Aguiló translated by Anna Crowe (Arc Publications)

John Berger’s fictional account of a doctor in the Forest of Dean, Dr Sassall in A Fortunate Man, presents the reader with that reality pointed to by Charles Tomlinson in his poem ‘A Meditation on John Constable’:

“…The artist lies
For the improvement of truth.”

Berger’s country doctor “exaggerates when he tells stories about himself. In these stories he is nearly always in an absurd position: trying to take a film on deck when the waves break over him; getting lost in a city he doesn’t know; letting a pneumatic drill run away with him. He stresses the disenchantment and deliberately makes himself a comic little man. Disguised in this way and forearmed against disappointment, he can then re-approach reality once more with the entirely un-comic purposes of mastering it, of understanding further.” Anna Crowe’s Preface to her convincing translations of the contemporary Mallorcan poet Aguiló highlights some similar ideas concerning the imagination of this tale-weaving poet:

“Already there is a sense that the reader may expect the unexpected. Reading these poems, what is striking is the power of the imagination at work, and the multiplicity of voices that speak through the poems. The power of the imagination might be said to be the underlying argument or leitmotif of Aguiló’s poetry.”

Aguiló creates worlds which can be visited secretly and we can begin “to search for the truth / by finding where the ink is hidden that tattoos us / in the world”. This is a poetry of doors and as they open, one by one, they invite the reader into the next stanza:

“The first stanza is the one that welcomes
you and drags you inside,
grabbing you by the arm and frowning at you;
the one that speaks to you with warmth and trust
while it makes you sit down in the armchair of the second stanza.”

These are magical poems which create a magical world of Mallorca in which “green and yellow words”, written by a botanical god, can be deciphered “every day on the pages of / the thicket of writing”.
This is a Mallorca known to the Americans of the 1950s from which Robert Creeley published his Divers Press books and Black Mountain Review and from which Robert Duncan could write to Denise Levertov in June 1955 about “the desire to have imagination freed again”. This is a world which exists with a perception of exact detail and an understanding that ouvertures are created through which we see another world:

“You had to walk stealthily. Every footstep echoed,
disturbing emptiness and time. The smells of food
from the kitchen did not reach this high and I scrabbled
among lumber and old clothes, savouring the smells
of chicken bran and the dung and damp walls
of this corner of Santanyí and bad Mallorcan cement.”

The importance of Tomlinson’s assertion about imagination and truth informs this whole collection and the emphasis noted in Anna Crowe’s introduction stands sentinel to a landscape which invites further exploration:

“There is a sense of a poet pushing the boundaries of the possible further and further out, of exploring what it means to live on the edge of whatever world he has invented, as well as, at the same time, going further and further in, exploring what it means to be human.”

Ian Brinton 23rd January 2017

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The Swell by Jessica Mookherjee (Telltale Press)

The Swell by Jessica Mookherjee (Telltale Press)

The title of the opening poem in Jessica Mookherjee’s short collection is ‘Snapshot’ and the poem opens with an assertion:

“There is photographic evidence
of when she shifted her gaze,
the exact time that her eyes went out of focus.”

A much-quoted cliché informs us that the camera never lies and yet it does not of course also always tell the truth.

“In February 1948, Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to address the hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens packed into Old Town Square. It was a crucial moment in Czech history—a fateful moment of the kind that occurs once or twice in a millennium.
Gottwald was flanked by his comrades, with Clementis standing next to him. There were snow flurries, it was cold, and Gottwald was bareheaded. The solicitious Clementis took off his own fur cap and set it on Gottwald’s head.
The Party propaganda section put out hundreds of thousands of copies of a photograph of that balcony with Gottwald, a fur cap on his head and comrades at his side, speaking to the nation. On that balcony the history of Communist Czechoslovakia was born. Every child knew the photograph from posters, schoolbooks, and museums.
Four years later Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately airbrushed him out of history and, obviously, out of all the photographs as well. Ever since, Gottwald has stood on that balcony alone. Where Clementis once stood, there is only bare palace wall. All that remains of Clementis is the cap on Gottwald’s head.”

The opening paragraph of Milan Kundera’s novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting refers to a famous photograph that was indeed taken on February 21st 1948 and when Vladimir Clementis was executed in 1952 he was indeed erased from the photograph. Mookherjee’s poem allows us the see how

“The pictures show me growing bigger,
in pigtails, often alone.”

What the photographs, those records of a domestic past, cannot show is the world that remains beyond the surface:

“There is no photograph of me climbing stairs
two at a time, no evidence that I tried
not to slip and break my neck.”

The Swell is a thoughtful slim volume of poems from Telltale Press, a publishing collective founded in 2014 which focuses on getting out short, first collections from emerging poets. It has a voice which I can hear. There is both an immediacy and a quality of meditation about these poems: they are both fiercely in the here-and-now and yet they offer a shrewd aftertaste. ‘Trying at Stratford East’ opens “When I hurled myself slap bang / into him near the Westfield at Stratford East, I was / trying to catch the Tube”. It concludes

“We stood near the ring road
and lamented They’ve chopped down the willow trees
I said to him,
Well it’s only natural they would do that;
nothing lasts.
Well I must fly
I said to him.
When I got onto the Tube, my faced bruised like a bin,
I think I was crying.”

In The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat Oliver Sachs suggested

“We have, each of us, a life-story, an inner narrative—whose continuity, whose sense is our lives. To be ourselves, we must have ourselves—possess, if need be repossess our life –stories.”

We all need narratives, continuous inner narratives to maintain our identities, our selves. We shall hear more of Jessica Mookherjee. And of Telltale Press:

The Hive, 66 High Street, Lewes BN7 1XG

Ian Brinton 15th January 2017

The Thief of Talant: Pierre Reverdy translated by Ian Seed (Wakefield Press)

The Thief of Talant: Pierre Reverdy translated by Ian Seed (Wakefield Press)

When Philippe Jaccottet wrote a short account of the central importance of Reverdy in an essay from 1960, reproduced by Gallimard in 1968 as part of a collection of essays titled L’Entretien des Muses, he highlighted the way in which the poetry is to be found “dans chaque mot qui éclate sur la page sèche, avide, éblouissante”. This is not, he continued, the large noble architecture of Claudel or Saint-John Perse but instead it focuses upon the “moindre bonheur, les voiles de la pluie, la fuite des nuées, les lueurs des vitres”. It is this sharp awareness of the accumulation of detail in the world that makes his work so important to two later poets, Frank O’Hara and Simon Smith. O’Hara’s lunch hour walk around the city concludes with the lines

“…My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.”

The poetry in O’Hara is in each word which bursts onto the empty space of the page, “avide”, asserting its right to be there.

“There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock.”

The fragility of the everyday is caught melting between the Puerto Ricans who make the day “beautiful and warm” and the end-of-line word “First” which heralds the references to the death of three close friends. The poet seems to be not only a step away from the dead but also from the fast movement of the day, as sensations disappear almost as soon as they are presented. Simon Smith’s volume from 2003, Reverdy Road (Salt Books), pays nodding homage to both the French and American poets as his poems, whilst appearing to present a quality of the random, are in fact highly-wrought and careful vignettes of modern urban and suburban life. The 2011 sequence, Gravesend (Veer Books), offers reflections of a train journey between Charing Cross and Chatham and what Jaccottet referred to as “lueurs des vitres” stabilize themselves with a desire for permanence within a shifting landscape: the poems themselves attempt to halt the sense of vertigo prompted by a world of captions and key-words presenting themselves as mirrors of everyday narrowness.

Ian Seed’s translation of Reverdy’s Le Voleur de Talan, the first time that it has been translated into English, brings us a world of a hundred years ago. The First World War is being fought, Cubism bisects reality and Reverdy’s friends are Picasso, Braque, Apollinaire. In his clear and informative introduction Ian Seed recreates a sense of that time:

“Up until the outbreak of the First World War, Reverdy also frequently met up with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire at the Café de Flore. Their discussions would often revolve around the use of punctuation in poetry and the shape of the text on the page. Reverdy, like Apollinaire, was uneasy with the way punctuation could interfere with the flow of a poem. They also questioned the poem’s abandonment of the right side of the page to blank space. What they were searching for was syntax and visual arrangement of text that would allow a poem to achieve its full expression.”

It is worth bearing in mind here of course that Mallarmé’s ‘Un Coup de Dès’ had appeared in 1897 shimmering and weaving its way across the pages of Cosmopolis.
Seed’s translation captures that “fuite des nuées” talked about by Jaccottet and he presents the reader with what he refers to as “a hauntingly beautiful long poem” which contains at its heart “Reverdy’s growing sense of dislocation and loss of self”. We read details as “Lights ran between doors / Soft sounds brushed / the partitions and some women went by / singing” and distance them as “Paler than old memories”. We seek a world of Orpheus as “We often turn our / heads and behind us / something flees much / faster than us” but the poet wants “to go / up once more after I / had descended forever.”

“Outside the closed door people passed by
slowly looking at the ground

They were looking for traces of my footsteps”

The traces are in the printer’s marks on the white page and we are now able to follow them in English thanks to the quality of Ian Seed’s own poetry: he brought something back to life.

Ian Brinton 8th January 2017

Tears in the Fence Flash Fiction Competition Results

Tears in the Fence is delighted to announce that the winners of its first Flash Fiction Competition are as follows:

First Prize: Many a Pearl is Still Hidden in the Oyster by Ingrid Jendrzejewski
Second Prize: To Thee Do We Send Up Our Sighs by Niamh MacCabe
Third Prize: Coeval by Jackie Sullivan
Highly Commended: Found in the Street by James Bell.

Congratulations to the winners. Their flash fiction will appear in Tears in the Fence 65, due out in February.

The Tears in the Fence Flash Fiction Competition was judged anonymously by three judges. The judges were looking for inventive use of the form and to be drawn into and surprised by a fictional world. There were many striking and moving entries with some unusual plots and arcs. Many entries combined strong characterisation with unpredictable plots. Each judge produced a long list and then a short list. A great many entries made the long lists indicating that the general standard of entries was fairly even. From the combined shortlists a final shortlist emerged, which each judge reread and produced a top five. From the top fives and an agreed top four emerged.

The final shortlist was suitably diverse with many unpredictable stories and comprised of the following entries:

Strange Creatures by Keith Walton, Those Little Details by Ren Watson, Too Close for Comfort by Emma Norry, A Fine Goodbye by Ren Watson, Ten Ways to Prepare for Your Brothers’ Visit by Judith Higgins, Molly and the Toe Rag by Catherine Edmunds, Found In The Street by James Bell, Campanula Capratica by Phil Knight, To Thee Do We Send Up Our Sighs by Niamh MacCabe, Then It Was Autumn Again by Sherri Turner, Many a pearl is still hidden in the oyster by Ingrid Jenrzejewski, Spy Film by Alan Beard, Ladybird by Alan Beard, Snowdrop by Jacqueline Haskell, Jack’s Hat by Robert Vas Dias, and Coeval by Jackie Sullivan.

Congratulations to all those whose work was recognised by the judges.

We will be holding a second Flash Fiction Competition between issues 65 and 66.

Acres of Light by Katherine Gallagher (Arc Publications)

Acres of Light by Katherine Gallagher (Arc Publications)

‘grass grows beneath us: minute blades stir,
flicker – something is happening – a season
emptying into the moment, rinsing clean.’

I was struck by these closing lines of ‘Elan’, the first poem in this publication of New Poems by Katherine Gallagher. I like the liquidity of movement, that use of ‘rinsing’ with its delicate nod towards Hopkins’s ‘Spring’ in which ‘echoing timber does so rinse and wring’. I like the urgent sense of the present and the way in which its immediacy follows on from the stanza before in which ‘Children’s voices / split the air’. I am left almost waiting for ‘the little / lame balloonman’ to whistle his way out of ee cummings

‘and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful’

On the back cover of this fine Arc volume Martyn Crucefix writes of the poet’s new collection being ‘bejewelled throughout with haiku-like moments of vivid observation’:

‘Her delighted responses – in particular to the natural world – serve to peel away the film of familiarity through which we usually gaze’.

Many of these poems evoke the world of journeying and the accumulations acquired along the way. As the epigraph to ‘Odyssey’ puts it, ‘The danger of travelling / is how it takes you over’. We move from Maldon (the poet’s birthplace in Victoria) to Chartres; a ring bought in Florence becomes a talisman in Welsh fog near Brecon; the gold-mining town of Daylesford in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range is haunted by the poet’s mother whilst a leisurely riverboat ride ‘through Shepperton to Hampton Court’ follows the Thames. The Homeric theme of nostos threads its way through the years as well as the miles and Gallagher remembers ‘the lights of a hundred cities’ to none of which does she quite belong:

‘arriving by motorway, train or plane,
sucked into streets of languages
controlling locales, time, the air.

Which way, a thrum of questions, adapting lines
pidgin speak, as each city revealed
its minarets and spires, the glasshouses
of a chameleon century…’

We are not in the world of vertigo and claustrophobia that squats heavily upon Todgers Guest House in the early pages of Martin Chuzzlewit:

‘You couldn’t walk about in Todgers’s neighbourhood, as you could in any other neighbourhood. You groped your way for an hour through lanes and bye-ways, and court-yards and passages; and never once emerged upon anything that might be reasonably called a street. A kind of resigned distraction came over the stranger as he trod those devious mazes and, giving himself up for lost, went in and out and round about, and quietly turned back again when he came to a dead wall or was stopped by an iron railing, and felt that the means of escape might possibly present themselves in their own good time, but that to anticipate them was hopeless.’

Katherine Gallagher’s memories of her mother pour themselves out, emptying the past into the present, rinsing clean so that

‘I imagine you here, being yourself, striding

beneath a theatre of stars.’

Ian Brinton 3rd January 2017

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